Lauren Lanfear and Kate Goulet knelt in the middle of a dirt road trying to coax fire from some dry weeds, and cattail duff without the help of matches.
The 13-year-olds from North Junior High scraped magnesium shavings onto a cotton ball daubed with Vaseline, then created sparks.
In moments, their small pile of tinder was ablaze.
“Be careful, you don’t want to kill it,” Lanfear told her eighth-grade classmate. “I’m going to grab some more cattails.”
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“We need a lot more,” Goulet told her.
The two were among 40 students from North Junior High and Timberline High School who spent two school days in the forest outside Garden Valley recently putting to work skills they’ve been studying at school, from fire-starting to knot-tying to harness-rigging as part of a physical education class.
That’s right: P.E. without laps, jumping jacks or volleyball.
“I feel like this is more important to know — how to survive in the wilderness — than learning how to play dodge ball,” said camper Hudson Fortier, 13.
Our goal as P.E. teachers is to make our kids lifelong movers
Jake Miller, eighth-grade instructor at North Junior High
An overnight camping trip was a field test of sorts of an approach to physical education developed by Kenneth Bell, a Boise State University associate professor of kinesiology, who brought together outdoor survival skills and physical education when he taught P.E. in California.
His goal: Make sure students have the skills to stay active long after their knees buckle under the force of playing basketball. “Basketball is a great game,” Bell said. “But not too many adults play that into their 40s and beyond. So these are the skills we are promoting so kids can have the skills to be active their whole lives.”
Bell’s approach is in line with national physical education standards developed and promoted by Virginia-based Shape America, a nonprofit group with 15,000 physical and health educators members.
“We’re focused on preparing kids for a lifetime of activities,” said Cheryl Richardson, Shape America senior director of programs.
Boise School District is open to exploring ways a P.E. camp could be expanded both to other schools and into different academic areas such as science or history, sad Boise district Athletic Director Jon Ruzicka, who spent an afternoon at the camp. Those students were fully engaged, he noted: “The kids were on a buzz talking to the (other) kids about how much fun they had.”
LEARNING TO STAY DRY
In the forest, students focused on creating shelters that would keep them dry on a day that promised to dump a deluge of water by dinnertime.
North student Lydia Stanton worked with a team of girls to fashion a shelter with sharp lines and angles that seems up to the task of diverting water. She even lashed a spray of pine needles to a small branch, fashioning a broom.
“This is great at our age to learn survival skills,” Stanton said.
Out in the wilderness, everything we do here is physical.
Jacob Randall, Timberline High School junior
About 30 yards away, under a large tree, Wyatt Moss, 17, and two other Timberline students dug a hole for a toilet and discussed ways to indicate when the bathroom was in use. One suggestion from Moss: A flag on a stick. When it’s showing, the bathroom is available. When not, the bathroom is in use.
Back at the shelter Wyatt and other students built, Wyatt was planning to sleep in a hammock suspended from two trees, but under the plastic tarp. His sheltermates slept on the ground.
“It’s nicer, I guess,’ he said. “I’ve got my own little space.”
CONFIDENCE IN THE WILD
Down the hill from the shelters, high school boys gathered with axes in their hands to split wood.
By late afternoon, heavy rains came. Students lined up for elk meat they stuck on a stick, cooked over a fire and then devoured.
Sebastian Elu, 17, took a couple of whacks at a log. “I’ve never chopped wood,” he said. (Hardly ever, he acknowledged later.)
As Triston Moral, 17, took his turn splitting a log, Timberline lifetimes sport instructor Larry Price encouraged him. “OK. Good. Perfect,” he called to Moral.
After polishing off sack lunches, the students went fishing, some learning to fly-fish for the first time. Others learned to fit themselves into rope harnesses and hoist themselves into trees. Others, like Lanfear and Goulet, sparked fires.
“You are the fire queens,” said Bell, watching tinder ignite almost effortlessly.
Will learning these skills make them feel more confident out in the wilderness?
“Way more confident,” Lanfear said.
Interested in learning more?
FInd out more about the changing face of physical education at IdahoStatesman.com.